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Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

The release of the new white paper on rail transport is a red letter day for SA. ("Mbalula’s high hopes for policy geared at getting SA rail on track," May 9).

I wholeheartedly welcome the content of the white paper and applaud transport minister Fikile Mbalula for having the courage to recognise that “radical structural reforms” are needed to restore passenger rail as the backbone of public transport in SA. The white paper represents a sea change in transport policy, and all but fully endorses the move to devolve the rail function to local government. It confirms that Cape Town is on the right track in beginning a feasibility study on devolving the management of passenger rail.

The study will give us a more detailed understanding of how this devolution should proceed — it will identify the financial costs and risks, and how to phase this takeover. We will undertake this study with urgency, as every passing day without a functioning rail system is a burden carried by the public who need that service, and does harm to our economy.

There is another, equally significant policy shift in the white paper — the recognition that it is private businesses that should increasingly run more of the network, and not the state. SA will only thrive when the state plays its proper role, and does so well. The business of the state is not to run businesses — it should regulate, license, establish ground rules and where necessary invest in bulk infrastructure. I have no doubt this shift in mindset will deliver dividends for the country in the years ahead, in less public money wasted and much better transport outcomes for the long-suffering public.

My only fear is that these bold reform words are tethered to the same millstone of government inaction that has weighed down other reforms like spectrum auction and energy deregulation. Now is not the time for five years of ponderous deliberation and consensus building. This shift demands immediate action. Let’s get working immediately on devolving the rail function, and set an irrevocable date for the completion of the handover. 

Geordin Hill-Lewis 
Cape Town mayor

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